Fears for health bodies in Medicare review

The corporate boss of the Illawarra’s Medicare Local has called on the government to spare the health organisations from the budgetary axe, saying they have not existed long enough to prove their worth.

The Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local is one of 61 community-based health organisations established by then prime minister Kevin Rudd after the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission declared a need for locally focused, regional health bodies.

Its contract with the federal government lasts until June 30, 2016, however, the health bodies may be scrapped in next month’s budget following a federal government-ordered review, which looked at whether the scheme had provided more clinical services, or merely added to bureaucracy.

General manager of corporate services at Illawarra-Shoalhaven Medicare Local, Ron de Jongh, said the local organisation had used its submission to the review to call for more time to roll out its programs and achieve ‘‘greater penetration’’.

‘‘Two years ago the Medicare Locals were created,’’ Mr de Jongh said.

‘‘Not enough time has passed for it to be judged harshly, because many of the programs are just taking on full capacity.

‘‘We think we can demonstrate we improve health outcomes, and improve the journeys of people through the health system, which is not always easy to navigate.

Mr de Jongh said suggestions the organisations were headed for the axe were ‘‘sheer speculation at this point in time’’.

Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird (Cunningham) and Stephen Jones (Throsby) said the scrapping of the Medicare Locals would axe more than 30 frontline health jobs and services for regional patients who struggled to get access to primary care.

‘‘Dismantling the collaborative, locally driven Medicare Local system and shifting patients back into a larger health network with centralised control is not the answer,’’ Mr Jones said.

Ms Bird said closing the system, which runs Headspace facilities in Wollongong and Nowra, would endanger ‘‘the mental health of some of the most vulnerable people in our community’’.

MEDICARE FACTS

. Medicare Locals replaced the old divisions of general practice and were tasked with bringing together multiple health disciplines to strengthen primary (out of hospital) healthcare and keep more people out of hospitals.

. Part of an $18 billion national scheme, the Illawarra-Shoalhaven arm has an  annual budget of $18 million and employs 140 people.

. It runs programs such as suicide prevention, chronic disease management and youth mental health service Headspace, and supports general practitioners.

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